Change of any kind is difficult for most of us, and that includes changes in diet. We all have favorites we eat that we know we shouldn’t, and the modern fast food diet of heavily processed convenient food does us no favors either.
Knowing a little about food and nutrition is important for migraine sufferers because so many of the commonly acceptable food items we eat contain ingredients known to trigger attacks. Sometimes, avoiding the things on the danger list is easy because we can see at a glance what it is. For instance, a can of soda is a can of soda; we know more or less that it’s going to be sweet and likely sugar-filled.
Other food items are not so easy to identify, as items that appear healthy on the surface can contain hidden ingredients likely to trigger a migraine. Things on this list might include, for instance, pizza made with aged cheese. Although we know the pizza contains cheese, the first thought that comes into our minds is, ‘this is pizza’, not ‘this is cheese and I should avoid it’. Other processed, packaged foods are even harder to identify since trigger ingredients can be heavily disguised.
Despite these difficulties, many migraine sufferers try to modify their diet to reduce the frequency or severity of their migraine attacks. Migraine is a complex condition, with many different causes that change from person to person, and for this reason it’s hard to give definitive diet advice. There are, however, a few commonly accepted pointers:
Start with Your Migraine Diary
Your migraine triggers are yours alone. You will likely have a few in common with other migraine sufferers but, for practical purposes, you should view your own experience as unique rather than assuming that what suits one person will also suit you.
If you haven’t already made meticulous notes about your diet in your migraine diary, including the time of day you ate something and any effects, do this for a couple of weeks before making any dietary changes. Unless you know exactly which food items trigger your migraine, there’s a chance that you will eliminate something you enjoy for no good reason. There’s no point depriving yourself of a morning coffee if caffeine is not a trigger.
Once you have a clear idea of the role diet plays in your migraine pattern, you’ll be in a stronger position to incorporate currently available dietary advice into your personalized plan.
We would never advise anyone to stop taking prescribed medication without first consulting their doctor or other care provider such as a neurologist. Bringing them on-board by discussing plans to attempt taking control over migraine through diet, may give you more confidence to try new things. Some people find that a change diet means they can reduce prescribed medication, while others find it frees them from so much dependence on additional, over-the-counter remedies.
Common Trigger Foods And a Place to Start
Here are a few food types that many find it helpful to avoid, along with varieties considered generally safe to eat:
- Dairy products: Many dairy products are safe for migraineurs, but these exclude aged cheeses such as Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Mozzarella and soft cheeses such as Brie. It’s also advisable to avoid yoghurt or sour cream buttermilk.
- Fruits: Safe fruits include berries such as blueberries, cherries and blackberries, although other types of fruit like grapes, pears and apples or peaches are also okay. On the avoidance list for migraine sufferers are bananas, lemons and limes, oranges, passion fruit and figs. You should also scratch dried fruit that’s preserved with sulfites off your list.
- Vegetables: Take Lima and Fava beans off your list of safe foods, along with sauerkraut, onions and lentils. Also, avoid processed foods such as instant mashed potato or potato flakes. Good alternatives include broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, string beans and preservative-free, bagged lettuce.
- Meats, Dressings and Accompaniments: If possible, try to make your own salad dressings and sauces, avoiding bottled dressings and sauces as these usually contain preservatives which may trigger migraines. Most fresh meats are fine to eat, although try to avoid breaded meat products such as chicken nuggets or ready-meals along with things like processed cooking aids.
- Cereals And Breads: Quick breads such as pumpernickel or zucchini, and most store bought breads are okay, but try to avoid fresh-baked bread including donuts and pizza. With cereals, many are fine but try to avoid any with nuts, chocolate, or dried fruit.
These are merely suggestions based on commonly accepted migraine triggers, and the list is not exhaustive. You may also find that some of these foods are perfectly okay and have no adverse effect on you. Experimentation and a detailed migraine food diary will help you work out your own best diet plan.